From closer to castoff in less than four months, Rafael Montero’s brief tenure with the Mariners was filled with unlucky breaks, pitch inefficiency, frequent lack of execution, appearances featuring far too many base runners often followed by runs scored and overall unmet expectations.
And really, it probably lasted about two weeks too long.
Following yet another disastrous outing Thursday night when he allowed a one-run deficit to turn into three in the eighth inning of a crucial game against the A’s, Montero was designated for assignment Friday afternoon to make room for right-hander Casey Sadler, who was reinstated from the 60-day injured list.
Over his last eight appearances, including the two runs allowed on three hits and a walk in his final outing, Montero had 13.09 ERA in 11 innings. Of those eight outings, he allowed at least one run in seven of them. Opposing hitters had a .463/.492/.648 slash line against him.
The Mariners now have 10 days to trade, outright or release Montero, who will be placed on waivers and eligible to be claimed by any team.
“Tough one there,” said Seattle manager Scott Servais. “He’s a tremendous person and the most unlucky pitcher I’ve ever been around when you look at the numbers and how it all worked out. But I’ve often said this is the do-good league. You do good, you stay. It is about results. So, unfortunately, we had to make a move there.”
Montero, 30, posted a 5-3 record with seven saves and a 7.27 ERA with 15 walks and 37 strikeouts in 40 appearances and 43 1/3 innings.
The bad luck stems from advanced metrics. Servais pointed to Montero’s 55% ground-ball rate and .366 batting average on balls in play (BABIP). Ground balls are ideal for pitchers getting outs and the MLB average is roughly 42%. The league average BABIP for pitchers is .291 in 2021. In past seasons as a reliever with Texas, his BABIP allowed was .238 in 2020 and .269 in 2019. Per MLB Statcast’s expected ERA, which uses the measure of exit velocity, launch angle and past results based on those numbers, Montero posted a 3.73. The average exit velocity allowed on balls in play was 86.7 mph, which was down from the past two seasons. And he allowed only 5.4% of the balls in play to be hit the barrel.
“It’s very strange,” Servais said. “And the luck just didn’t turn. You would think that at some point, it would turn, but it didn’t. And there was some some rough outings sprinkled in there as well. But I’m pretty confident that he’ll end up getting a shot somewhere else. He still has good stuff. Sometimes just change of scenery, you put a different uniform on, you get a fresh start and you take off and go from there. It wouldn’t surprise me if he turned it around really quickly. We just didn’t feel like it was going to happen here based on what we’ve seen here.”
But bad luck isn’t the only reason for his issues. His strikeout rate dropped from 30% in 2019 to 18% in 2021. He also was completely indifferent to controlling the running game in leverage situations. Opposing runners were 7 for 7 on stolen bases and a dozen others were able to advance from first to third on his bad-luck hits allowed. Those extra base advancement into scoring position often led to runs allowed. Of his 40 appearances, he allowed at least one runner to reach base in 29 of them.
In his first 10 appearances, serving as the M’s closer to start the season, he was 2-0 with three saves and a 2.61 ERA with four walks and nine strikeouts in 10 1/3 innings. Over his last 30 appearances, he was 3-3 with four saves and an 8.73 ERA while walking 11 and striking out 28 in 33 innings.
With the stated goal of bolstering the bullpen this past offseason, but little payroll flexibility to do so, general manager Jerry Dipoto acquired Montero from the Rangers on Dec. 15, 2020, in exchange for right-handed pitcher José Corniell and a player to be named later. That player was infielder Andres Mesa, who was sent to Texas on June 14.
As the closer for a bad Rangers team in 2020, Montero was 8 for 8 in save situations but also had a 4.01 ERA.
Sadler, 31, was placed on the 10-day injured list with right shoulder inflammation May 2 and was later transferred to the 60-day IL with a right shoulder impingement May 29.
He appeared in 11 games before the injury, posting an 0-1 record with three holds and a 1.64 ERA with six walks and 10 strikeouts in 11 innings.
Before being activated from the IL, he made four appearances on a rehab stint — three with Class AAA Tacoma and one with High-A Everett. He faced 11 batters and didn’t allow a base runner over 3 2/3 innings pitched, striking out six.